[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Hannibal Hamlin hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
Sun Jan 4 14:27:13 EST 2009

I'm not sure Johnson is the best guide to anything in Milton, and the
"absence of evidence" argument seems problematic generally.  I am still
unconvinced that PL (among other poems) is not more fundamentally
incompatible with De Doctrina, or indeed with any theological tract.
Several posts have addressed points of specific doctrine -- Arianism for
instance -- but to what extent is any doctrine clearly espoused or expressed
in Milton's poem?  Poetry, especially of a dramatic kind, seems an
exceptionally poor way to articulate theological positions, since ambiguity
and dialogue are part of its essential nature.  There is also the problem of
representation.  It's all very well to say, as one might (and Milton does),
that higher truths must be accommodated to man's limited, fallen
understanding, but this would suggest that such accommodations are
clarifying, whereas in fact they are often deeply confusing.  Case in point
-- how can the reader NOT assume that Father and Son are not *homoousios* if
they are having a conversation like two separate persons?  Much of the
action and dialogue of PL muddles attempts to derive from it clear
theological positions, it seems to me.  I suppose one might take a Fishian
position here, and argue that all this is just a test, that we need to
resist the temptation to heresy and stand on what we know to be
theologically/morally true, but this just returns us to the question I began
with, whether we derive our theological measure from the 39 Articles, the
Bible, or De Doctrina.  If Milton really wanted to "justify the ways of God
to man," to express theological truth as he understood it, why on earth
would he choose a poem as the form in which to do it?  This may sound
sophomoric, I know, but my reason for posing my earlier question was that
I'm not sure Milton criticism has really solved some of the most basic
problems posed by his poems, despite the appearance of theological/doctrinal
clarity in much critical writing.  This may be critically heretical, but it
also seems to me that it's partly the lack of clarity that makes the poems
so interesting.


On 1/4/09, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:
> Yes, this is a helpful thread. Thanks to all.
> In support of Lewis's view, as far as I recall the Father never speaks of
> what the Son is not (e. g. "not of one essence"), but only in positive
> terms
> of what he is. These positive descriptions are generally compatible with
> orthodoxy. The Son's subordinate position is dramatized (but not
> emphatically), and not stated as doctrine. The very orthodox Samuel Johnson
> noticed nothing doctrinally objectionable. One might expect Johnson to have
> his antennae up, Milton being anti-Anglican and politically objectionable
> to
> him.
> Michael
> On 1/4/09 10:00 AM, "John Leonard" <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote:
> > This is a fascinating and valuable thread.  I am not qualified to dispute
> > points of doctrine with Michael Bauman, even if I wanted to--and I do not
> > want to, as his excellent book on this subject has convinced me on just
> > about all doctrinal matters.  So devastating are Michael's arguments in
> > *Milton's Arianism* (1987) that I think it no exaggeration to say that
> the
> > question of Milton's authorship of DDC that arose four years after the
> > publication of Michael's book was in very large part a desperate response
> to
> > it.  .  Having lost the *interpretative* battle for DDC, critics who had
> > wanted to distance that text from heresy took the only course left to
> them:
> > they denied Milton's authorship.  Their argument implicitly concedes that
> if
> > Milton *had* written DDC, he was indeed an Arian.  Critics like William
> > Hunter would not have made this concession before Bauman's book appeared.
> >
> > But one can acknowledge all this and still ask a pertinent question about
> > PL.  Milton certainly held views that most other Christians would call
> > "heretical."  That, I think, is now indisputable.  But does Milton
> advertise
> > these views in PL?  C. S. Lewis thought that Milton was unorthodox in his
> > private beliefs but wrote PL for all Christians.  This is a very
> different
> > argument from that of the *Bright Essence* trinity of critics who tried
> to
> > rescue Milton for orthodoxy.  Might Lewis's argument still have
> credibility?
> > I put this out there as a genuine question as I do not (yet) know what I
> > think on the matter.  Lewis certainly overstates his case when he says
> that
> > no one suspected Milton of heresy until the discovery of DDC.  There were
> a
> > few critics, including John Dennis, Daniel Defoe, Charles Leslie, and
> > "Theophilus," who did in fact suspect the presence of Arian heresy in PL.
> > (John Rumrich's 1996 book is very good on this.)  But other early
> > commentators, including the Jonathan Richardsons and Thomas Newton,
> thought
> > that Milton was orthodox.  True, they felt the need to argue for this
> view,
> > and they were wrong; but they were not fools.  So my question is:
> >
> > Does Milton in PL go out of his way to signal his "heresies" (I use scare
> > quotes because Milton himself interrogates the word, glossing it as
> > "opinions") or does he tactfully understate them?  A possible analogy is
> his
> > reticence on his Italian journey, when he made it a rule for himself
> neither
> > to advertise nor conceal his Protestantism, but to stand by it if
> pressed.
> > Might he have a similar attitude to Arianism and other unorthodox
> opinions
> > in PL?  Or is he writing PL (as we might now say) "in code" for the
> knowing
> > few?
> >
> >
> > John Leonard
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "Michael Bauman" <mbauman at hillsdale.edu>
> > To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> > Sent: Saturday, January 03, 2009 12:18 PM
> > Subject: RE: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
> >
> >
> >> Kim,
> >> I'm interested to hear precisely what  PL is if it is "neither
> Trinitarian
> >> nor Arian, but something else entirely."  What theological category are
> >> you invoking with "something else entirely"?
> >>
> >> I wonder what you mean when you say that an epic poem designed to
> "justify
> >> the ways of God to man," one that deals with things like creation,
> >> temptation, heaven, hell, angels, demons, Satan, predestination and the
> >> fall, and that contains a lengthy and detailed summary of the entire
> >> Bible, "is not doctrinal at all," to some unspecified "degree."  I'm
> >> confused about how PL is not doctrinal at all -- to some degree.
> >>
> >> I'm puzzled about why you say that the notes to Carey's translation are
> a
> >> better guide to PL and De Doctrina than Kelley since, if I remember
> >> correctly, the notes to the Yale Prose version of De Doctrina are almost
> >> all by Maurice Kelley, and in them he teaches the same points in almost
> >> always the same fashion that he did earlier in his This Great Argument.
> >>
> >> The Son is not "the sole cause of Creation" in PL.  See 3:167, 5:836,
> >> 7:163ff, etc.
> >>
> >> Michael Bauman
> >> ________________________________________
> >> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> >> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Kim Maxwell
> >> [kmaxwell at stanford.edu]
> >> Sent: Saturday, January 03, 2009 9:40 AM
> >> To: John Milton Discussion List
> >> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
> >>
> >> Another point of view.
> >>
> >> In his latest work on the subject, Michael Lieb suggests the word
> >> ³conversation² as the academic relationship between PL and DCC, one that
> >> admits inconsistencies between them but resists sorting either out in
> >> terms of the other.  Given what has happened since Kelly, it is hard not
> >> to read his book as Procrustean and selective.  I personally find the
> >> footnotes in Carey¹s translation in the Yale Prose to be a better
> >> introduction to how DCC and PL converse than Kelly.  Furthermore, I
> would
> >> defend the word on the grounds that DCC provides means of understanding
> >> the degree to which PL is not doctrinal at all, rather than the means by
> >> which either might improve our understanding of the other¹s
> doctrine.  For
> >> example,  in DCC Milton makes it clear that God is unitary and
> >> unchangeable, and hence cannot duplicate himself or transfer all of his
> >> powers to a second, inferior God (the Son).  To work around the obvious
> >> complications such a view entails regarding the Creation and the openi!
> >> ng of John, he makes a careful distinction between ³creation by² and
> >> ³creation through² in his DCC chapter on the subject, allocating to the
> >> Son only the formal cause of the universe.  Whether this works or
> not  is
> >> not important to its read on  PL, where the Son does have all the powers
> >> of God (³second omnipotence²) and is the sole cause of the Creation,
> said
> >> explicitly to be ³by² the Son, a position only possible on a Trinitarian
> >> or polytheistic account of the Godhead, both of which DCC denies.  I
> think
> >> DCC helps see the many ways in which PL is both Trinitarian and not
> >> Trinitarian, and hence is neither Trinitarian nor Arian, but something
> >> else entirely.
> >>
> >> Kim Maxwell
> >>
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Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Burkhardt Fellow,
The Folger Shakespeare Library
201 East Capitol Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
hamlin.22 at osu.edu/
hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
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